Here’s the news buzz word for the latest unkind trend in the travel industry: disegalitarianism.
This disturbing word comes from Adam Goldstein, CEO of Royal Caribbean International, which owns several cruise lines. He uses it to describe the trend toward providing more amenities exclusively for the highest-paying passengers.
Traditionally, fares on mass-market cruise ships are based on the size and luxuriousness of the cabin. The rest of the ship has been pretty much shared. Everyone uses the same pools, lounges and dining rooms, regardless of whether they’re staying in a penthouse suite or the cheapest inside cabin.
But more and more ships are offering private spas, lounges and dining rooms reserved for passengers in the priciest suites. So what? Well, it follows, naturally, that there is less common space for the common people.
It’s not exactly going to be the Titanic, with the second- and third-class passengers banished to the lower decks. But it will be a smidge closer to that. (We can be pretty sure, anyway, that the Coast Guard won’t let the inhabitants of the penthouse suites hog the lifeboats I hope.)
Certainly there are arguments to be made that you get what you pay for, and the cruise lines are entitled to do business as they please. The cruise industry is already pretty stratified; the rich are more likely to sail on Silversea than on Carnival. And the very rich have their own yachts.
Yet I wonder whether, in trying to grab more of that high-end market, the mass-market cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean are risking damage to one of the things that make cruising fun. I mean the opportunity to meet people – all kinds of people – all over the ship. (But especially at open-seating lunch.)
I’ve met people from all over the country and the world on cruise ships, from a wealthy South African wearing a ring laden with massive diamonds to a missionary sent on a cruise by her friends. I’ve met Scottish guys in kilts (on formal night, of course) and Mennonite women in bonnets (I presumed from the clothing — it seemed impolite to ask.) Firefighters, mechanics, lawyers, salesmen, farmers – it’s like The Village People. (And that’s not to mention the staff, who are even more interesting.)
This argues to me for a less stratified world, where investment bankers might lunch with plumbers and their children might play together, too. America has always tried to be like that, I think.
I expect, though, that this trend will continue. Disegalitarianism may be among the more salient travel trends of this decade, on airlines as well as cruise ships. I’m only surprised that the industry has not yet come up with a Madison Avenue word that makes it sound a bit less ugly and divisive.